Right winger Broc Little ’11 didn’t make the varsity team until junior year of high school, and even then he started the season on the fourth line.
Four years later, he’s the leading scorer for the No. 6 men’s hockey team and has the second-highest goals per game average in Division I Hockey.
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“My freshman year [at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts] I was 5 nothing, 89 pounds,” Little said. “I’d always dreamed of playing for a big program, but I didn’t know how realistic the goal was.”
Now 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing in at 165 pounds, Little may not be big, but in his three years at Yale, the New Hampshire native has developed an aggressive, quick style that has made him a crucial ingredient of the nation’s highest-scoring offense.
“He’s such a threat,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “Sometimes he’s a quick strike threat where you don’t notice him for a little bit, and then all of a sudden Broc is in on the goalie. That kind of opportunistic offense can change the course of the game.”
And nowhere was that was that more clear than this weekend at Ingalls Rink, as Little’s three goals fueled the Elis to two ECAC victories that lifted them into a tie for first place.
Friday night, Little beat a defender to a loose puck in the neutral zone and looked ready to score on a breakaway before being hooked by a Dartmouth defender, an act that earned the right winger a penalty shot.
Little’s penalty shot goal tied the game at two and brought the crowd to a frenzy, as Little slid on one knee, pumped his right fist into the air and embraced his teammates.
Not only did Little change the game’s momentum, but he went on to give Yale the lead for good three minutes later on a power play goal.
It was just another example of the explosiveness Little has shown over the past five years. Given the chance to play on the hockey powerhouse Cushing Academy varsity team his junior year, Little exploded to lead the league that year in goals with 35. And he hasn’t slowed down as a Bulldog.
Little said that he could tell while visiting Yale that the Elis were headed in a good direction. But still he admits to not always expecting the success to come so rapidly.
“My biggest surprise is just how quickly we turned things around,” Little said. “[Three years] before I came here they had four wins in the ECAC. And then last year we were able to get our first ECAC Championship. It was cool to be part of the turnaround.”
During his freshman year, Little scored the team’s only hat trick and ranked second on the team in both points and goals. His play was good enough to earn him a share of the Martin Dwyer Award with linemate Denny Kearney ’11 as the team’s best freshmen, but left defenseman Tom Dignard ’10 said that he has noticed an even greater sense of improvement since the 2007-’08 season.
“I think his confidence has just grown immensely since he entered Yale,” Dignard said. “The past two years he’s been having a lot more fun with the game and been a lot more confident with it.”
And his stats prove it.
Last year Little tied for the team lead in points and this year he has already broken his career goal record with 18 goals. His 0.78 goals per game rank him second in the nation in the category.
“One of the reasons I’m scoring more is because I’m shooting more,” Little said. “I’ve also got to give a lot of credit to my linemates too. Denny has done a great job setting me up in every single game since I’ve been here.”
Allain attributed Little’s offensive spike to the right winger’s awareness on the ice.
“We want to be a good transition team in anticipating the turnover,” he said. “Broc’s quick, so if he gets a step on a guy, he turns it into two steps, and that’s it.”
His offense may be lethal, but Little said he has to continue to focus on his defense as well as handling his aggression — Little is third on the team with 13 penalties so far this season.
“I kind of take after my dad I guess because he’s aggressive, but I think it’s also just competitiveness — the intensity of always wanting to win,” he said. “I sometimes let the intensity of the game get the best of me, but I’ve been trying to work on it lately.”
After all, Little has repeatedly shown his ability to grow.
Correction: Feb. 10, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the award Broc Little ’11 and Denny Kearney won as freshmen. It was the Martin Dwyer Award, not the Malcolm G. Chace Award.